Friday, 5 November 2010

Hu Jintao declared "World's Most Powerful Person"

Hu Jintao has been declared "world's most powerful person" by Forbes Magazine. If Tory grandee Malcolm Rifkind had not already got there with this brilliant article on the premature nature of much of the hyperbolae over China's assent to world-power status (although this is undoubtedly what is gradually taking place), this award would have sparked an attempt by myself to cover the same ground. Happily, Malcolm Rifkind's piece is far better than anything I might produce. Money quote:
" . . . focusing on China’s overall GDP is deceptive. The day at which China’s overall goods and services eclipse those of the United States will see no sudden and remarkable realignment of the world order. The Allies’ victory in World War II, which created the bipolar world overseen by the US and USSR, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which elevated the United States to a position of unipolarity, aren’t suitable comparisons.

For all its progress, per capita GDP in China remains low. Last year, when spread across its gigantic population, China’s GDP amounted to just $6,600 per person compared with the $46,400 for the average American. Such figures highlight an important point—while China’s overall GDP is fast approaching that of the US, the level of disposable income in the country remains low. It will be decades before China is able to introduce the tax rates that would be necessary to fund a global presence akin to that adopted by the US military."

In reality, despite the dictatorial powers that Hu Jintao wields in comparison to Barack Obama, Obama remains the president of the world's largest national economy, commander-in-chief of the world's most powerful military, and leader of a country which, despite the great loss of credibility inflicted by revelations of human rights abuses during the war against terror, retains a great cultural attraction to the rest of the world. It will take more even than the surpassing of the United States in nominal GDP terms (which is scheduled to take place sometime around 2030 according to current predictions) to turn China's leaders into more powerful men (and, like the US elite, they are overwhelmingly made up of men) than the freely elected president of the United States.

A Slew of Stories

A lot going on in the news at the moment, but it's not too clear what all of it means:

  • The video of the collision between a Japanese coastguard vessel and a Chinese fishing boat has been leaked. Although the film on CNN does appear to show the fishing boat ramming the coastguard, without seeing the whole video (and I haven't been able to find it online) it is impossible to know what actually happened. Even more confusing is why this video has been leaked now, weeks after the Chinese captain was released.
  • Ai Wei Wei, whose display at the turbine hall of the Tate Modern Art Gallery I saw during a visit to London a couple of weeks ago, is under arrest, in an apparent effort to stop him attending a party. Why this would be done now is beyond me, except that it may be part of a crackdown on dissent and dissidents following the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo.
  • More evidence of a crackdown can be found in this story of an engineer from Guangzhou who is under arrest on charges of inciting subversion of state power. His crime? Handing out leaflets saying that people should be "proud" of Liu Xiaobo. How much more evidence is needed to counter the claims of crazed nationalists that Liu's imprisonment is justified by his foreign links, and not merely related to the content of his various works?